Columns » John Brummett

For Huckabee, careful words

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Like a lot of things about Mike Huckabee, it seemed strange.

He called a local news conference Monday, the day after he announced his Republican presidential candidacy on “Meet the Press” and hours before he would head for Iowa.

He told us that he thought Tim Russert’s mildly challenging questions had been fair and that, since he intended to run for president, he needed to face 90-mile-per-hour fastballs at his head from major league pitching.

Then he denied he was thin-skinned, meaning overly sensitive to the minor league pitching he gets around here.
Then he outrageously and slanderously likened an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter to Jayson Blair or Janet Cooke, infamous plagiarizers and fabricators.

That was because the reporter had produced an article about Huckabee’s crushing his hard drives, depleting the governor’s emergency fund and throwing a hissy fit on his last days as governor because his Blackberry got cut off.
Huckabee has aggressively challenged the article’s implications and its assertion that he and his staff did not respond initially to questions. What he has yet to challenge are substantive facts.

Whether it’s a big deal that he crushed his hard drives — he did it. Whether it’s a big deal that he parceled out his personal emergency fund — he did it. Whether it’s a big deal that he took lighting and speaker equipment with him because it was Republican-donated, and thus properly the party’s property — he did it.

But, in another breath Monday, Huckabee presumed to be expansive and generous toward the media. He wanted us to know that his headquarters would be in Little Rock and that he welcomed and encouraged our coverage. He said he’d be happy to have us travel with his campaign, so long as we were careful about what we said to people out of state about him. I suppose he meant that humorously.

Professional journalists would cover him and his presidential candidacy with or without a presumptuous personal invitation, of course. We’ll see how he responds if the Arkansas Times, his nemesis to which he petulantly declined to extend basic professional courtesies as governor, attempts to hop on his plane. The same curiosity extends to the aforementioned Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter.

Nevertheless, I will oblige Huckabee’s request should the opportunity arise for me to speak of him. I will be careful, even if he isn’t.

I will not tell reporters or civilians in other states that he was a failed governor. I will say he was an uncommonly uneven one, blending progress, compassion, detachment, meanness and irresponsibility.

I will not call him unethical, and certainly not corrupt. I will describe him as who likes to receive gifts and sees no reason to decline them in deference to the appearances, if not necessarily the practice, of ethical conduct.

I will not call him a demagogue. I will say he is one to whom impressive words come easily and flow smoothly, even if the facts don’t always match up.

I will not call him a liar. I will label him a chronic hyperbolizer given to petulance, huffiness and an overly dramatic woe-is-me combativeness, one by which he always seems to see morality plays with himself as the good guy or martyr.

I will not say he turned Wayne Dumond loose. I will say Wayne Dumond got turned loose by the Parole Board during Huckabee’s governorship after Huckabee said in a letter to Dumond, “It is my desire that you be released.”

I will not call Huckabee unfit for the presidency. I will say I can no longer be sure how low that bar can go.

I will save this paragraph for distribution if they start coming by the office to ask me what I think of him, as they did when Bill Clinton ran.

But, as I recall, they only began to pour in after Clinton’s candidacy became serious. Maybe, then, I can be spared having to talk about Huckabee at all, a blessing.

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